It is easy to consider gardening as only a hobby, but current research shows it is an effective way to improve health. Whether you have a windowsill, a balcony, or a backyard, start growing to reap the following health benefits:
Improve nutrition with antioxidants.
Herbs are ideal for new gardeners and for those with limited space. All you need are a few pots and a window. The herbs you grow will add delicious flavor to your foods, and decrease the need for added fat and salt in your cooking. Herbs are rich in the antioxidants that protect against cancers and heart disease. The highest concentrations of antioxidants are found in oregano, followed by dill, garden thyme, rosemary, and peppermint.
Support an active, engaged community.
Whether it is an alleyway in the middle of a city, a rooftop, or a shared lot in a suburban neighborhood, community gardens bring people together. Research conducted by Jill Litt, Ph.D. from the University of Colorado found that people who participate in community gardening cultivate relationships with their neighbors, have a more positive outlook on health, and eat better. Over 50% of the gardeners met national recommendations for fruit and vegetable intake, versus 25% of non-gardeners.
Increase your physical activity.
Gardening is a way to meet daily physical activity recommendations. According to Dr. Litt’s research, gardeners report an average of 12 hours of physical activity a week. That’s about 30% more exercise than reported by non-gardeners. Kansas State researchers found that gardening is one way older adults can meet recommendations for moderate physical activity, while also reaping other physical benefits such as improved hand strength. Gardening provides both cardiovascular activity and strength training. Some of these activities are weight-bearing and protective against osteoporosis.
Cook your own food.
Whether your garden produces a basket of tomatoes and peppers, or a handful of fresh herbs, you will need to turn those fresh foods into healthy meals. This can be as simple as drizzling sliced tomato and basil leaves with olive oil, or as complex as making your own marinara. Cooking your own food is the best way to control what you eat. As the produce pours in, you will seek creative ways to use it. This will expand your culinary knowledge, improve self-confidence in the kitchen, support mental health through learning new skills, and increase your intake of nutritious foods.
Teach your children a new skill.
An increasing number of schools are growing food, and showing that a garden is the perfect classroom. Whether a child’s garden experiences are at home or at school, gardening promotes education in math and science. It teaches the life lessons of planning, patience, and pride in hard work. Garden-based nutrition programs also significantly increase the number of new fruits and vegetables tried by children (according to a 2009 study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association).
Improve financial health, and reduce spending.
Growing your own food reduces your costs all year long. Once you provide the initial investment of time and money for plants, the benefit of the food produced will quickly outweigh the small cost. For example, the average cost of a beefsteak tomato plant is about $3.50. According to Iowa State University Extension, under the right conditions and care, a single tomato plant can produce as much as 8 to 10 lbs of tomatoes. That is a small cost for a significant reward. And when you preserve extra tomatoes by freezing or canning, you will extend your family’s food savings throughout the year.